The Google Analytics update: Thoughts and Implications
By now you are all well aware that the nice folks at Google wowed the web analytics world last week by announcing a suite of upgrades to Google Analytics at Emetrics. Google’s “Analytics Evangelist” Avinash Kaushik — who was otherwise a no-show at the conference — made the flight out in Brett Crosby’s place to deliver a very energetic presentation describing the new features. More than anything after the talk I was left with this impression:
Google is serious about Google Analytics. Period.
This is great news, at least for most of us, and I have to say after playing with some of the new features I am very impressed. Not that I didn’t expect to be — Brett and Paul’s team at Google has repeatedly demonstrated that they get it and that they have the programming talent to back them up. With the addition of Kaushik as a full time product evangelist, especially given Avinash’s intensely competitive nature, the question wasn’t “will they improve the product” but rather “how much will they improve the product?”
This is a conversation I seem to have with folks who are tangential to the industry quite a bit, mostly because people who have invested a bunch into OMTR are justifiably nervous about whether Google Analytics has the potential to slow SiteCatalyst sales. All along the arguement for OMTR was “Google Analtytics is nowhere near as powerful as SiteCatalyst and Google has no reason to improve Google Analytics, adding missing functionality like segmentation, customization, and data export functionality given the associated costs and the fact that Google Analytics already dominates the web analytics landscape with an over 65% marketshare across all sites with tag-based analytics deployed.”
Except it appears that nobody told Google this. Or, if they did, Google didn’t listen.
Now don’t get me wrong, the new features are not totally perfect. The segmentation feature which is receiving the most hype within the web analytics community is not true visitor-level segmentation but rather session-based segmentation which severely limits an experienced practitioner’s ability to drill-down into the data. But I suppose this is a perfect example of “you get what you pay for” and since we’re not paying having multidimensional session-level segmentation that can be immediately applied to all historical data is pretty sweet.
On the upside, I was actually pretty surprised about Motion Charts which to me seemed like a tchotchky but after playing with it for just a little bit I’m inclined to agree with Yahoo’s Dennis Mortensen that Motion Charts have potential. I especially like the “Link to Chart” option that seems to allow us to share the visualizations we create with other Google Analytics users.
Here’s a Motion Chart that I’m rather enjoying the use of: Keywords by goal conversion rate by bounce rate sized by Percent New Visits colored uniquely with trails turned on.
The other features (AdSense integration, Management Console upgrade) are nice but decidedly less sexy. Oh, except for the Data Export APIs which is easily the most exciting feature announced, and the one that has the greatest potential to reshape the web analytics landscape forever. As I recently commented when talking about Yahoo Web Analytics, the availability of API-based access to web analytic data is the feature that has the greatest potential to change the way larger and more sophisticated companies think about free tools like Google Analytics.
Judah Phillips commented as much back in May of last year when Google updated Analytics the last time. Bright guy that Judah. Now he can use Google Analytics in his new position to pull freely collected data into the corporate Intranet … niiiice!
I suspect that before long we’re going to see some pretty cool applications taking advantage of the Google Analytics APIs which will erode the immediacy of need to invest in for-fee solutions. When I ask my magic eight-ball if someone will develop something like HBX ReportBuilder for Google Analytics to allow companies to create custom reports in Excel and schedule delivery, or if we’re going to see vertical-specific web analytics applications like “Google Analytics for Real Estate Sites” and “Google Analytics for Law Firms” the response is always the same:
“Signs point to yes.”
It’s not that there isn’t still a gap between functionality provided by Google Analytics and that provided by Yahoo Web Analytics, SiteCatalyst, Coremetrics, WebTrends Web Analytics, etc., there definitely is. Custom data collection, data integration into the visualization interface, visitor-level data collection and analysis, custom dimensions and metrics, and the like are all features more-or-less required for advanced analytics. But I think the fact that so few companies are doing truly advanced analytics coupled with the inevitable ecosystem that will spring up around the Google Analytics APIs will create some pain within the sales organizations among the for-fee vendors.
Especially in this uncertain economy, if I have to choose between spending between $20K to $50K on an entry-level SiteCatalyst/Coremetrics/WebTrends/Unica/Nedstat deployment or spending nothing to explore the use of segmentation, report customization, and Motion Charts while waiting for someone like DataLinks to port their application to the Google Analytics APIs so you can spend $995 to build totally customized key performance indicator reports in Excel … well, as a small business owner the choice is pretty clear.
WebTrends recent announcement about moving increasingly into BI, essentially as middleware between web data and traditional business analysis applications, is typical of the response I expect we’re going to see from the for-fee vendors. Some type of move up-market to continue to justify the expense of data collection, which will further limit opportunities for growth since I expect the end-user market to continue to mature at a much slower pace than the available technology set.
I mean, why pay for data collection and storage if Google and Yahoo are going to give it away? Especially in the context of those APIs and the low-cost applications we’ll inevitably see, I suspect the management teams at Omniture, Coremetrics, WebTrends, Unica, and Nedstat are looking suspiciously at their Q4 and Q1 2009 projections for SMB sales and global expansion trying to figure out exactly how much free web analytics will ultimately impact the business.
I know I would be.
It’s not to say they won’t figure it out — all of these guys are tough competitors with a lot of experience growing their business in an increasingly volatile market — but it will certainly be interesting to see how they go about it. And I personally think it’s going to be a lot of fun to see how the market changes. The best companies are doing absolutely outrageous things with web analytics, the mid-market is maturing more than ever thanks to an understanding of the right relationship between people, process, and technology, and the number of viable solutions is now approaching a very reasonable set reflective of the market’s maturation.
- The new Google Analytics features are totally awesome and the crew at Google should get some kind of altruism award for making this level of functionality available for free;
- Once and for all we can agree that, without any doubt, Google is serious about Google Analytics and web analytics in general;
- While GA’s segmentation is limited to session data only, the implementation is brilliantly intuitive to use, especially at the best of all price points;
- Motion Charts are far cooler than I expected them to be, custom reporting is as brilliantly intuitive as I expected it to be;
- I still don’t think Google Analytics is appropriate for advanced practitioners, at least not as a system of record, but the number of truly advanced practitioners working out there today is still relatively small;
- I think the Data Export APIs are the most exciting aspect of this announcement and I’m looking forward to all the cool, new applications that will inevitably spring up based on these APIs;
- I think that Google has sucked the wind out of Yahoo’s sails, whether they intended to or not, but I still don’t think that Google Analytics and Yahoo Web Analytics are directly competitive;
- I think the vendor folks most impacted by this announcement are the teams responsible for SMB sales, the expansion into Europe and Asia, and anyone selling web analytics solutions at a sub-$50K price point;
- I expect the for-fee vendors to respond to Google Analytics not by picking on the features (remember: voters don’t like negative campaigning!) but rather by working to more aggressively take their existing suites and platforms up-market;
- I don’t expect this announcement to be a death blow to anyone. Rather it serves as yet another reinforcement of the inevitable commoditization of the web analytics data collection market and a wake-up call to any company with a ten-year plan to continue to make money counting page views.
Okay, thanks to Brett’s generosity I’m going to go back to playing with segmentation and Motion Charts. As always I welcome your feedback on my commentary and would love to hear from those of you also playing with the new features about your experience.